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various and casual impressions of beauty than one who is forced to pay constant attention to his footing.
On the other hand, no better instance than Wordsworth's prose could be found of the value of sincerity in writing, in other words of having something which you want to say, and, to use a favourite phrase of his, of writing with your eye on the object.' Wordsworth used prose simply as a means to an end; and nobody need open one of his essays with the mere idle curiosity to see what sort of stuff it is.' But if you are interested in the subject on which he writes, it is safe to say that your interest will be increased by what he writes about it. Of the Essay upon Epitaphs Hartley Coleridge said, “It shows that if Wordsworth had not been a great poet, he might have been a great prose-writer.' This, I think, is quite true; but at the same time, the Essay upon Epitaphs is the least impressive of his important prose works, is less cogent and original in thought and expression than the Tract on the Convention of Cintra, the Description of the Lake Country, or the Prefaces to the poems. And this inferiority is due to the fact that, as a whole, the essay has not the same practical object as the other works; the thought and the expression are not, except in certain passages, fused into one by the heat of the writer's desire to convince and to persuade.
Wordsworth's writing was, like his character, absolutely sincere; and his life was devoted to poetry. It follows inevitably that his prose is a poet's prose. In spite of its plain straightforwardness, of the absence of conscious ornament or artifice, of its frequently cumbrous movement, its long argumentation, its constant reference to principles, its laborious care in exposition, and its didactic insistence, one can never lose the feeling that it is a poet's prose. For an illustration we will turn not to the Description of the Lake Country, which in its very subject matter bears an obvious affinity to one of the commonest functions of poetry, nor one of the Prefaces which deal with poetic principles and may be expected to be tinged with poetic language, but the Tract on the Convention of Cintra. This is how that pamphlet opens :
The Convention, recently concluded by the Generals at the head of the British army in Portugal, is one of the most important events of our time. It would be deemed so in France, if the Ruler of that country could dare to make it public with those merely of its known bearings and dependencies with which the English people are acquainted; it has been deemed so in Spain and Portugal as far as the people of those countries have been permitted to gain, or have gained, a knowledge of it; and what this nation has felt and still feels upon the subject is sufficiently manifest. Wherever the tidings were communicated, they carried agitation along with them--a conflict of sensations in which, though sorrow was predominant, yet, through force of scorn, impatience, hope, and indignation, and through the
universal participation in passions so complex, and the sense of power which this necessarily included the whole partook of the energy and activity of congratulation and joy. Not a street, not a public room, not a fireside in the island which was not disturbed as by a local or private trouble; men of all estates, conditions, and tempers were affected apparently in equal degrees. Yet was the event by none received as an open and measurable affliction : it had indeed features bold and intelligible to every one; but there was an under-expression which was strange, dark, and mysterious—and, accordingly as different notions prevailed, or the object was looked at in different points of view, we were astonished like men who are overwhelmed with forewarning-fearful like men who feel themselves to be helpless, and indignant and angry like men who are betrayed. In a word, it would not be too much to say that the tidings of this event did not spread with the commotion of a storm which sweeps visibly over our heads, but like an earthquake which rocks the ground under
Not more conspicuously in this passage, than on almost every page of Wordsworth's prose, the language is more highly charged with metaphor, recalls a greater number of concrete images, and deals with a wider range of epithets, than is usual with writers of prose who are not also poets.
It is not my purpose in introducing Wordsworth's critical writings to the reader to discuss at full length either their antecedents or the principles which they were intended to uphold. With regard to their antecedents, the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads explains them clearly enough for any one who is fairly acquainted with the English poetry of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; and no amount of explanation will make them clear to any one who is not.
The whole of our modern attitude towards nature and towards the art of interpreting nature through language has been so largely created by Wordsworth and Coleridge and by later writers, in most respects dissimilar, but all profoundly influenced by these two, such as Shelley and Keats, Ruskin and Tennyson, Matthew Arnold and Browning, that Wordsworth's polemic is necessarily in part unreal to us except in a historic sense. We may know what 'gaudiness and inane phraseology' mean without travelling back out of the twentieth century; but we do not know quite what it meant to Wordsworth unless we know something of the typical verse of the eighteenth century, of the Popes without Pope's wit, the Johnsons without Johnson's vigour, the Grays without Gray's taste, the Cowpers without Cowper's sincerity. We have no lack of novels to which the expression ‘frantic' might be applied, though silly' would perhaps characterize them better; but the • sickly and stupid German tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse,' which moved Wordsworth to an unusually acrimonious tone, have long become invisible in the dark backward and abysm of time.
The positive part of Wordsworth's critical writings,
the statement of his principles, is far more important; but it raised so much discussion that it is out of the question to deal with it in any detail here. I must content myself with indicating a few of what seem to me the most important points, and with a word or two of caution against attributing to Wordsworth opinions which he never held.
At the same time it is necessary to keep in mind the fact that Wordsworth did not profess to put forward a system of ‘Poetics,' but that his critical writings have almost all a direct reference to his own poetry and only to certain parts or aspects of that, “The majority of the Lyrical Ballads are described in the Advertisement as "experiments, and that Advertisement, and the Preface of 1800 into which it grew, as well as the Appendix on Poetic Diction of 1802, are primarily and in their main intention an explanation of the principles upon which those experiments are based. They constitute, in essence, that plea for a return to Nature,' i.e. to truth and sincerity of thought and statement, of feeling and expression, which the liability of mankind to fall under the yoke of fashions and formulae evokes from all vigorous and independent writers. The Lyrical Ballads themselves triumphantly vindicated their existence; for it must be remembered that the very eagerness of the Edinburgh Reviewers and others to stamp out the infection of Wordsworth's style is a testimony, amply supported by the positive evidence of Coleridge and of the verse produced in